Brew City Bar Tab takes a patron's-eye look at the Milwaukee area's diverse selection of bars, clubs, pubs, taverns, lounges and more. Stay tuned each week for themed bar reports, bar reviews and bartender profiles to help you explore and discover the city's bar scene.
Ah, 2012. A new year, and a renewed promise of exciting things yet to come. And, if the Mayan doomsdayers are right, it's the last one we'll ever have, so that's all the more reason to make the most of the next 12 months.
I don't believe in any of the speculative pseudo-history, but I do believe in jumping at new experiences. In this case, it only makes sense to check out some of the brand-spankin'-new bars that have recently set up shop in Milwaukee. Here's a look at three of them.
2155 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 395-6184
The Backyard is still a baby (it just opened in November) but it's already building itself up for big things – literally.
Formerly Telluride, the space has been reinvented as a laid-back hangout for Bay Viewers. The horseshoe bar has been torn down and replaced with an impressive angular one running the length of the front room's side wall. Plans are also in the works to extend it semi-outdoors to allow for an ordering window of sorts for patrons enjoying the expansive, fenced-in patio just outside the building.
And with a name like "The Backyard," you can bet the focus will be on that patio. Come warmer weather the bar plans to create a destination for games, grilling and fun. Already equipped with fire pits and grills, The Backyard is planning a unique set-up in which patrons can bring their own supplies and take advantage of the bar's open grills, giving a whole new outlook on bringing in your own food. Additionally, the bar's owners are considering kicking the idea up a notch by providing condiments and more to spice up patrons' B-Y-O BBQ fare.
For now, The Backyard is making clever work of this focal point. They've already hosted s'mores nights and hooked up a sound system for sports fans to catch the game outside and enjoy the cold around the open fire. Inside, the bar still has a bit of an unfinished feeling, but it's fully stocked and offers the allure of daily drink specials and extended happy hours (4-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and all day Sunday).
Dehne's Upper 90 Sports Pub
322 W. State St., (414) 988-9372
Calling themselves Milwaukee's first gastro sports pub, the Upper 90 Sports Pub is another new Milwaukee addition, and another "backyard" bar of sorts. Situated just across 4th Street from the Bradley Center and U.S. Cellular Arena, the new sports bar is a natural after-party stop for fans of the Bucks, Wave and more.
What makes the U-90 different from the standard sports bar around town is its extensive and elaborate dining menu, which you can get up to speed on here. The focus is immediately noticeable when you walk in – the kitchen space is open and visible at the front of the bar, and makes for interesting viewing when it picks up. However, the U-90 stays faithful to its sports, offering its main spectacle on several big screens wall-mounted throughout (and more, if you're sitting across from the bar's mirrors just so). The space itself is pretty easy on the eyes, too. They've capitalized on the historic building with a richly decorated bar and an array of antique and modern sports equipment and memorabilia canvassing the walls.
Don't be intimidated by all the attention to the menu, though. The place is still very much a bar, and are more than welcoming to those just stopping by for a drink. They stock over 65 craft beers and wine selections for any price range. The beer options also feature a number of international brews – so much so that, according to the bar manager, they're considering putting together a "drink around the world" challenge, which will allow patrons to track their way through the U-90's numerous offerings and earn themselves some kind of permanent recognition in the bar.
Rusty's Old 50
730 N. Old World 3rd St., (414) 221-9200
If you've ever wished Route 66 had more bars and wasn't so far away, Rusty's Old 50 is for you. Visually speaking, it looks like the historic highway was diverted right through the bar, complete with the vintage wheels – in this case, a 1952 Ford pickup.
Here you'll find delightfully gaudy vintage lights and signs, coupled with the faux-grimy windows of a desert garage and the wood floor of the hypothetical tool shed out back. Oddly, this all comes together in an almost elegant way. The dim lighting around the two full bars, the deep crimson walls and spacious interior make Rusty's almost minimalist despite the out-West décor.
This fine line between "down home" and "high class" is further blurred – and not unpleasantly so – by the bar's food and drink menu. A modest list of martinis and old-fashioned cocktails takes precedence on the drink menu, yet on the flip side the food menu features classic comfort foods, deep-fried guilty pleasures and build-your-own burgers. All the usual beer and liquor suspects are still available, though – the familiar standbys that make the bar's more eclectic offerings easier to soak in and the overall Rusty's experience offbeat and enjoyable.
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.